Listening to Unspoken Dialogue by saxophonist Bobby Selvaggio raises the old debate of composer versus improviser. Of the nine tracks found here, eight were penned by Selvaggio, plus "Alone Together by Arthur Schwartz. Is he a player or a writer?
Perhaps arranger is his strongest suit.
Selvaggio's compositions are keen to animate his fellow musicians on this recording, especially the adroit humor that is Kenny Werner's piano and the exuberant trumpet/flugelhorn of Paul Tynan. This ensemble recalls the early Wynton/Branford Marsalis or Bobby Watson bands. That is, the 21st century offspring of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.
Like fellow musician Joe Lovano, Selvaggio is both Cleveland-born and a second generation jazz musician. He has been a member of Lovano's 52nd Street Nonet, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, and the Village Vanguard Orchestra. This is his fourth release as a leader.
That influence is best found in the composition "Jungle Animals. The Selvaggio/Tynan two-horn attack opens into a cheeky and changing path of a melody. Selvaggio shares the track with soloing partners Tynan and Werner. Werner maintains the architecture for Selvaggio to muscle his solo alongside Tynan's very snappy trumpet. This post-bop is both clever and intellectual without sounding dry or academic. Likewise the animated "Spy Movie is a combination muted Miles meets Ennio Morricone at cartoon time, full of funky runs down back alleys.
Selvaggio writes music to gain the most from this specific configuration of players, whether it is a song in full flight like the rambunctious "On The Outside Looking In or the more intimate "Follow The Leader. The latter, taken at a slower pace, never lacks for intensity. He sits in on a nice duo piece, "Like Tears In Rain, where Werner opens with the interior piano strings. Selvaggio's soprano wraps Werner's chamber piano playing with a warmth that is quite difficult to coax out of a the straight horn.
Is Selvaggio a better player, composer, or arranger? The answer to all three is yes, as this is a near-perfect recording.
Track Listing: Forgotten Man; Follow the Leader; Like Tears in Rain; Jungle Animals; None Left Behind; Alone Together; Spy Movie; On the Outside; Today's a New Day.
Personnel: Bobby Selvaggio: alto and soprano sax; Kenny Werner: piano; Paul Tynan: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ben Street: bass; Matt Perko: drums; Jamey Haddad: drums and cahon.